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The US's century-long destruction of Native American land, in one animated map

Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

The 19th century was an unmitigated disaster for North America's native peoples. The United States' westward expansion came at the expense of their land, freedom, and often their lives — a mass displacement that, as this animated map shows, happened over an astonishingly brief period of time.

The map, made by Tumblr user sunisup, combines a series of maps from Louisiana State University geographer Sam B. Hilliard, based on primary US government sources. What they show in time-lapse is the rapid collapse in native land holdings — marked in green — between 1784 and 1895:

Theft of Native Americans’ land Sam B. Hillard/Sunisup

Combined native holdings in green, non-native land in white. (Sam B. Hillard / Sunisup)

From 1784 to the War of 1812, tribal displacement was limited compared to what would come. "Eastern tribes were well organized," Hilliard writes, "and the demand for land by whites was moderate."

After the war, things changed. The United States moved west, rapidly, forcing out native communities, often violently. "Instead of ceding parts of their claim," Hilliard writes, "Indians found themselves confined to small reserves while the remainder of their land was open to white settlement." It was "common practice" for Americans to ask native peoples where their lands were, and then demand part or all of it after they had firmly established the size of the holding.

Between 1810 and 1895, America gobbled up the continent through deceptive negotiating tactics and brute military force. "By the time the US passed the Dawes Act in 1887, effectively abolishing tribal self-governance and forcing assimilation, there was very little left," Max Fisher and Dylan Matthews write. Native Americans were shunted to minuscule reservations, many of which remain impoverished today.

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